February 7, 2013

Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies: Harnessing the Zeitgeist for Fun and Prophet

(Photo Credit: Hipster or Jesus)

(Photo Credit: Hipster or Jesus)

by Thomas Holgrave (@hipstercon)

A lot of people come up to me at conferences, to which, as a very successful hipster-progressive post-evangelical blogger, I have been invited to speak, asking me how they, too, can make a name for themselves as a voice for the disaffected semi-faithful.

Normally a successful writer conceals the hidden mainspring of his success with golden platitudes like “insight” and “perseverance.” I used to be reluctant to divulge the true secret of my success, until I realized that, like Washington politics, progressive opinion is not a zero-sum game. To paraphrase the great Thomas Friedman, the world is flat, hot, and bothered. So now I give the following advice (and invite them back to my suite for more in-depth conversation if they’re cute).

Post-evangelical blogging is not for everyone. If you are going to be successful you need to have a few important things settled from the outset:

A. Your personal background. It is imperative that as a post-evangelical blogger, you grew up in circumstances that the average 18-29 year old evangelical reader would recognize, such as a non-denominational Bible church. This experience serves as your fundamental reference point for any assumptions or general statements you make about Christian fellowships, beliefs, or behavior.

B. Your departure. It is equally important that you now look back upon your formative circumstances from a point of critical detachment. Your Christian perspective should express itself primarily in contradistinction to this background, which you share with the majority of your readers. (If you are uneasy with calling yourself a “Christian” you may refer to yourself as a “Jesus-follower” or a person of “deep yet questioning faith.”)

C. Your crisis. If at all possible you should narrate your grievances with the ways Christians you used to know treated people, either yourself or others. Use the fact that they acted badly as evidence that their deeply-held beliefs are false.

D. Urge a re-evaluation of Christian moral teaching. Observe ways in which the beliefs of Christians you used to know differ from those generally accepted by the surrounding culture, and how those same Christians were themselves incapable of living up to their own standards. This shows that they were wrong, and that current cultural practices are more natural and authentically human.

With these preliminaries in place, the main thing about post-evangelical blogging is to be relevant. Relevance may seem difficult to understand, but it is actually achieved through an easy and–dare I say–mechanical process.

The Secret to Achieving Post-Evangelical Relevance

As a prospective progressive blogger, you are no doubt familiar with the organs of contemporary thought–Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan, Paul Krugman–the list goes on. The trick of post-evangelical blogging is to take the issue du jour, be it gay marriage, birth control, gun control, abortion, or assisted suicide,  and re-interpret it as a fundamental and authentic challenge to the assumptions of the suburban evangelicalism which for you represents the sum total of Christian belief and experience.

Explain the personal conflict you experience between your evangelical roots and what you now truly believe is a devastating challenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Suggest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Christians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “generous response.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this challenge. Remember: “Questioning” is a one-way street.

Write at great length about authenticity and humanity–or rather, assign those terms to whatever culturally-acceptable practice you are promoting.

If you are a man, express a deep and sensitive regard for feminists and those with alternative sexual lifestyles, and be quick to reevaluate your male, presumably heteronormative perspective in light of new information about what is culturally ascendent.

As a general rule you don’t actually need to do the difficult intellectual work of reevaluating anything, as long as you talk about doing it. Your audience doesn’t know the difference.

If you are a woman, write in extremely short paragraphs containing not more than a couple sentences, sometimes just a single phrase. Avoid capital letters and you will be as raw and authentic as my unfiltered cigarettes.

Finally, avoid unhelpful discussions of the concept of “sin.” Serious Christian intellectuals are working hard to wrest the language of “sin” from the patriarchal power structures which have used it to repress people since the rise of Judaism. Undoing four thousand years of oppression isn’t done in an afternoon. After all, even Jesus, though he claimed to have overthrown the authority of Caesar, Satan, and the Sanhedrin, refrained from challenging the all-male priesthood, which has perpetuated this idea of “sin.”  This is not amateur hour, and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by avoiding “sin” altogether.

I hope this advice helps. Here’s my card. What do you say to drinks at my place after this?

Mr. Holgrave is a pseudonymous person who writes for The Hipster Conservative. The opinions expressed in this article are not his own (nor those of the Institute on Religion and Democracy).

  • In a word: brilliant.

  • I am having problems with ‘D’ above, since I find ancient guys more “natural and authentically human.;

  • Very funny stuff. And oh yes, terms like “Jesus-Follower” drive me up a wall too. Conform to the un-conformity!

  • Jeremy Baines

    Ditto to the earlier posts, and also, great insight about the word “grace” being used to cover just about anything while meaning absolutely nothing. The people that toss that word into every sentence don’t have a clue what the New Testament meaning of charis actually was. When words cease to mean anything, confusion ensues.

    • I’m assuming charis means what the Strong’s Concordance says it means: http://wp.me/p2N3wt-oT. If there’s some alternative definition, I’d be glad to hear it.

  • Mark

    Very good stuff. The scary part is the number of people who may not recognize the satire.

    • Josh

      Only those steeped in that sort of sarcastic culture find it funny, or as something opposite of what it claims to satire. The method itself is wrong as it does not communicate what is loving. I’m certain God does not laugh when his sheep are in danger and his shepherds are having a good laugh about how ineffective they’ve been.

      • Mark

        Conservative Christians get this stuff from liberals ALL THE TIME. They are expected to laugh it off. Why is that not the case when the tables are turned?

        Besides, sometimes both sides just need to lighten up and laugh.

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  • Holgrave

    Apparently the IRD’s tweet gave people the impression that I was calling out Elizabeth Esther, whose writing I am actually unfamiliar with (until now). The piece was inspired by Tony Jones’s post “Is it Time for Christians to Celebrate Pre-Marital Sex?” Sorry to give the wrong impression.

    • Nathaniel Torrey

      I can’t speak for whoever sent the actual tweet, but your recommendation for women post-evangelical bloggers to ” write in extremely short paragraphs containing not more than a couple sentences, sometimes just a single phrase” reminded me of her style.

      • Holgrave

        That was a cheap shot at Ann Voskamp. Mea culpa.

    • Jill

      I have been reading EE for a couple months now thinking it was a christian blog and have found it to be bigoted, full of man hating feminism and anti-evangelicalism.

  • Sara Anderson

    Priceless! Don’t forget The Huffington Post as a source of profundity for these folks

  • J S Lang

    I think this hate-filled, bigoted, intolerant, patriarchal article creates a hostile environment.

    A grace-filled follower of Jesus

  • If I’m not mistaken, the word(s) “coffee” or “coffee house” did not appear in the article. A missing rhetorical article, no?

  • “How to lose post-evangelical friends and un-influence people”–A response to Post-Evangelical Blogging For Dummies

    I have people come up to me all the time at conferences and speaking engagements—well I actually have to interrupt a conversation about the keynote speaker’s topic, but that’s beside the point—asking how such a sardonic and pedantic person like myself continues to blog about the obvious, while vilifying stereotypes that in the end are only straw men distracting me from the fact that I’m still living in my grandma’s theological basement.

    I could offer hackneyed answers like “I thank God I’m not like other people”, or “a strict diet of fatted calf”, but then I realize I’m alone in a room again. And though God may hear my rant, he doesn’t laugh loud enough, and he’s honestly kind of cheap with compliments.

    So here are my secrets on how to lose post-evangelical friends and un-influence people:

    א) Totally disregard personal experience. News flash: your story is boring. The Truth has nothing to do with what you think about The Truth. “The Truth is out there”, said one brilliant person it would not behoove me to name, like the sun above the sky, unflinching and unchanging—immutable if you will—and this Truth is as old and impersonal as the stars. Even God can’t change Truth. Thankfully, people like me know The Truth, and it remains unpolluted by my personal bias, opinion, or my…story (how cute). People like me are, if you will, like safety deposit boxes for God’s message to mankind. Hey, don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

    ב) Never leave home. God did not call us to adventure, or change, or risk, or anything of the sort. Stay where you are and no one gets hurt. God always send an ark. Those little questions that you find constantly nagging you, that make you think your moral compass has been magnetized and is off by 90 degrees—ignore it. Keep the faith, the old faith, the unchangeable faith of whichever protestant denomination you happened to be born in. Test the boundaries and you might step on a landmine and become a hipster, or the Dude, or Peter Griffin, or Anderson Cooper. Beware the sheep in wolves clothing. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.

    ג) Pain or crises don’t change a thing. Honest questioning is honest…’confusioning’. We’re human, after all, and God has placed in each of us an unerring conscience that always speaks the truth very clearly. No grey with God (ooh, I like that). And this truth never conflicts with the Bible. You have to steel your mind against any persuasion that comes knocking at the door as if it’s Christ himself. Shut your ears, cover your eyes, fatten your heart. We’re in for a long ride. Keep your arms and legs inside your creed at all times.

    ד) Remember that you are right. You’ve always been right. How could you be wrong? The Bible is right. If you believe in the Bible, you’re right. How do you know the Bible is right? You just know it, that’s all. Nothing external to the Bible has the authority to confirm or deny the claims of the Bible. You just know in your heart. But how do you know your heart is right? We just covered this…because the Bible is right, and you believe it in your heart, therefore you’re right. What part of this do you find confusing? Your mind is playing tricks on you again.

    This brings us to the phrase that is anathema to all right people: revelence. I mean, relevance (Spat!!). What is all this talk about relevance? What madman came up with it? What is it, some kind of post-evangelical conspiracy? Look, did Noah care if he was relevant when the ark shut out a whole world of screaming adults and children and little doggies so that his family could be safe? Did Moses care if he was relevant when he told the priests to kill his own people for worshipping an idol while he was having coffee with God? Or did John the Baptist care if he was relevant when he went out to the desert to wear camel’s hair and eat locusts and wild honey? Did Jesus care if he was relevant when he busted out a whip in the temple or told the rich, young ruler to take a hike?

    The fate of the prophets, of which I am obviously a true form, was not to be ‘relevant’. It was to have a ‘forehead harder than flint” and “bitterness in the heat of my spirit”. The post-evangelicals—well, now I’m splitting hairs—let’s just say the world as a whole is as “briars, and thorns, and scorpions” to me, an earth swarming with rebellious people who are, starting in alphabetical order, “arrogant, boastful, disobedient to parents, haters of God, insolent, inventors of evil, slanderers without understanding, unloving, unmerciful, untrustworthy; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t add “Jesus loves you”, where ‘you’ is ‘them’; but he’s also just a liiiiiiiiiitle mad at you. Maybe a lot of mad.

    Stereotypification is the tir pas cher du jour. I’ve decided I don’t have to take opportunists seriously, so the only thing between me and a good nap is bringing all post-evangelicals (I really love that word) under the rubric of ‘opportunist’. How do I do it so easily? Easy. I just do, and—BAM!—it’s done. Gay people, pro-choicers, feminists, feminist sympathizers, humanitarians, raw-writers, sin-shunners, intellectual wannabes…they all get thrown in the blender, and out comes a nice, cool, smoothie of invigorating “WRONG!!”

    I hope this helps. Here’s a tract. Stop by my grandma’s church sometime. Nice altar there. You can get saved.

    • ” … asking how such a sardonic and pedantic person like myself continues to blog about the obvious, while vilifying stereotypes that in the end are only straw men …”

      Hmm … like this very response :^)

    • Mark

      “Stereotypification is the tir pas cher du jour.”

      Congrats to Chris Shank: you’ve just shot yourself!

    • Tierce

      “Look, did Noah care if he was relevant when the ark shut out a whole world of screaming adults and children and little doggies so that his family could be safe? Did Moses care if he was relevant when he told the priests to kill his own people for worshipping(sic) an idol while he was having coffee with God? Or did John the Baptist care if he was relevant when he went out to the desert to wear camel’s hair and eat locusts and wild honey? Did Jesus care if he was relevant when he busted out a whip in the temple or told the rich, young ruler to take a hike?”

      I can’t express how incredibly grateful I am to someone like Chris Shank for articulating this profound statement. Now I realize that instead of maintaining my concern for the truth of what the Bible says and attempting to evaluate it on its own terms I can merely mine its provisions in order to justify my own desires.

    • J

      The only comment combines #1 and #2. 1) if experience matters, mine is that the people who 2) (Never leave home.) are who this blog is describing. They embrace what they THINK they see in the world, but even non-Christians aren’t totally honest.

      They don’t see behind closed doors, “O, and yea, my step-dad used to molest me, so I might not be totally honest about how warped I am about sexuality” Or “I ran down the street naked because meth destroyed my mind.” Or “my mom tried to make me make-up with grandpa because i’m making thanksgiving awkward, even though he’s been molesting me since I was 2.” Or “I lost my virginity at 11, and I didn’t like sex, so I must be gay” or “I walked in on my aunt snorting cocaine in the bathroom” or “I gave my boyfriend oral sex during PE class at school, and now I feel bad” or “I was in a gang, and realized I needed to leave after I was raped” or “I’ve counted up how many people I’ve slept with but when I got to #40, I just started crying” or “My parents smoke weed on the weekends, and got me a bottle of Jack Daniels for my 16th birthday” OR “No one at home will talk about when my uncle killed my cousins, aunt, and then himself, and I have nightmares about it” or “I followed my mom to work for weeks as a kid, terrified that she would leave like my dad did”<———None of this is fiction. All things I heard growing up in typical "non-churched" suburbia (have you been there?). All things said by my BFFs too by the way, not some random "sinners".

      Call me a cynic, but our culture, while not all bad, is in desperate need of God's and the truth. So go ahead and be disenchanted, but try actually entering the world first. Excuse my lack of sympathy for people who apparently seemed to have been kidnapped at birth and raised in a fundamentalist cult/nursing home. Your rant shows you are too familiar with "church". Sure there were a HANDFUL of people I knew growing up who were in the church and were like I HATE GOD BECAUSE HE DOESN'T LET ME WATCH RATED R MOVIES. But there seemed to be worse things in the world when I compared it to everyone else. Branch out. Or you will never know relevance.

      • J

        Yes this shows you are sooo in touch: “I hope this helps. Here’s a tract. Stop by my grandma’s church sometime. Nice altar there. You can get saved.”

        Because the average non-church-goer would get this… like 30 years ago. wow….

        • Round two of: “You’re not cool, I’m Cool.” Ding!

          • J

            O fun, is that a GenXer game? I’m just sayin’, you should rename your post “I’m bitter about growing up in my Grandma’s theological Basement” -subtitled: “and I assume everyone else grew up there too”. When you rant to people about your crazy book-burning church, and their eyes glaze over, you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Most of the world actually has DIFFERENT chips on their shoulder than you do. Don’t worry though, the heathen are rather nice folks, and they will politely smile and nod at your rantings. They may even feel bad that you were kidnapped at birth and raised in a fundmentalist cult/nursing home.

            I’ve seen what you’ve described in your post (but fortunately not much). But “The Secret to Achieving Post-Evangelical Relevance” is describing a great strategy, that just doesn’t work if it’s based on suburban assumptions instead of truth, or (even worse) directed ONLY to people who are exactly like them, because they are the ONLY ones who cold POSSIBLY understand their pain. It’s just suburban evangelicals who THINK they have left their assumptions (or the suburbs) behind, but have really just set up camp in a different corner of grandma’s basement. Ruminating over how to beat down “The (straw) Man”.

          • By the way, thanks for reading my blog.

      • Dear J,
        Tell your friends about my blog.

    • Chase Lloyd

      Remarkable. Even better. Following.

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  • Josh

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Straight forward, true, genuine and not sarcastic. Simple resignation of all to God, including puffed up senses of self and prowess of wit, is what we should all model. It’s as relevant now as ever.

  • Kate

    I think this post is unkind.

  • I have to agree with you, Holgrave: that was a cheap shot @ Ann Voskamp and not funny at all. Thank you for being manly enough to apologize.

  • That was a cheap shot @ Voskamp satire format or no. Thank you for being manly enough to apologize.

  • J

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Chase Lloyd

    Remarkable. Fun read. Following.

  • Katie

    You don’t want to hear things like “authenticity” and “humanity” and “generous response,” huh? Well, let’s simplify things. How about plain old “mean”? How about “self-righteous”? How about that word you’d like to hear so much more of, “sinful”? All of those words describe you, buddy. You have more in common with the Pharisee in Luke 18 than with Jesus.

    • Greg P

      I think this is what’s called “satire.”

    • Ben Welliver

      Re Katie’s umbrage:

      I don’t know if the author of the original article is self-righteous or not, but we all know that liberals are most definitely the gold standard for self-righteous. In fact, the article is making a case against self-righteousness – which, in case you didn’t notice, is what Jesus was doing in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. So if you think it’s wrong to condemn self-righteousness, you’re saying that Jesus was wrong – and that you’re wrong too.

  • Evangelical

    This is just anti-intellectual drivel, the author’s understanding of the Bible would fill nothing people should read Stephen Langton’s Bible Commentaries for extra-Biblcal wisdom, or the Holy Spirit for direct scriptural wisdom, they should refrain from this filth.

  • R. Alleigh

    There’s nothing funny about the pod pew people

    • Ben Welliver

      Please tell us about those. If you’re referring to evangelical Christians, of which I am one, I’d love to hear an analysis of my podness. Lord knows we’ve been called much worse. Is “pod” a new slur term that the Christian-bashers dreamed up? I guess they got tired of “bigots” and “homophobes,” must’ve found a thesaurus somewhere.

      If you’re not referring to evangelicals, then whom? Surely not liberals, since they are proud of being independent and highly intellectual. Which is odd, given their herd instinct.

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  • And of course, if you’re *against* your idea of “post-evangelical” blogs, all you have to do is pretend you’ve followed one or two thoroughly and sincerely, then come up with a bunch of ways to twist their methods and question their motives.
    Ta da! Voila.

  • J

    Chris- whatever man, get off my back! 😉 I’ve never met anyone who grew up in the bible belt, but if i do i will send them to your blog. And thx for leaving an entire post in the comment section. Keep getting ur street cred up. Seriously tho…. I’m sorry u grew up with such toxic theology, but it’s totally irrelevant to my experience. And, my experience is just as valid as yours, like you said. In the end though, it’s not dogma (from scripture or experience) that matters, it’s getting out side of whatever basement we’re stuck in (bible belt or otherwise) and making life about other people.

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  • David

    Three words: Rachel Held Evans.

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